Fernando Gonzalez, Round One, 2011 US Open
I have been a huge tennis fan of Chilean Fernando Gonzalez since I saw him play at the US Open in 2002 and lose in the quarterfinal in a heart-wrenching tiebreak that he couldn't convert to a win.
With every crushing stroke of his bombadero forehand, I thought he had bested his opponent Sjeng Schalken in the three hour and 43 minute death set that was up for grabs, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-3, 6-7 (5).
But after thrilling us in that 4th set, Gonzalez couldn't maintain the winning attitude. Schalken crept up on him to pounce in the 5th set tiebreak getting up on Gonzalez with a wide margin of 6-0. The crowd went wild when Gonzalez got the next two points, but it was a cruel lure; he lost the third, propelling Schalken into the semifinals which he lost. Subsequently, Schalken's career choked into invisibility. A battle fatigued and fading soldier, Schalken retired in 2006 because of injuries.
On the other hand, Gonzalez went on to Olympic successes. In Athens 2004, he won a gold in doubles with his buddy Nicolas Massu, and a bronze in singles. He garnered a silver in 2008 Bejing tennis, elevating Gonzalez into history as the fourth male tennis player to win each of the medals. He is one of the few men's singles players to have made the quarterfinals in every Grand Slam tournament.
I was most hopeful when Larry Stafanki became his coach, because Stafanki brought a number of other players to dizzying tennis heights: John McEnroe, Tim Henman (Britain) Marcelo Rios (Chile) and Jonas Bjorkman (Sweden). Stafanki rode Gonzalez hard to lose weight and firm up his backhand slice. It paid off. Gonzalez lifted his competitive edge flying under the radar in the 2007 Australian Open where he made the finals, but once again lost, this time to phenom Roger Federer. Gonzalez went home to national accolades and his adoring countrymen. Putting Chile on the map of greatness after his Olympic wins and his tennis performance in the quarters and Australian Open final, he was more beloved than Chile's president.Continued on the next page